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Wrap Up: July 2020

  • The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar  ★★★★☆ (4/5)
  • One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London  ★★★★★ (5/5)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victore La Valle  ★★★★☆ (4/5)
  • Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin  ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)
  • Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power  ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Anders  ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
  • The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley  ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
  • Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman  ★★☆☆☆ (2.5/5)
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin  ★★★★☆ (4/5)
  • Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch  ★★★★★ (4.5/5)
  • Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke  ★★★★☆ (4/5)
  • Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles  ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 12
YEARLY SO FAR: 74

I’ve had a very diversified reading month! I’ve read high fantasy, science fiction, nonfiction, urban fantasy, horror, YA contemporary, and women’s fiction/romance. I also managed to finish reading all the Hugo novel nominees, so I’m very, very pelased with myself!

I am currently reading:

the blade itself

Yup, just one book! I can’t remember the last time I was only reading one book at a time! The reason for this is because I would like to devote all my attention in August to finishing up three major fantasy series: The First Law Trilogy (if I like this first book, fingers crossed), The Poppy War Trilogy (I’m buying the first two books and have an ARC of the yet-to-be-released third), and The Daevabad Trilogy (assuming my FaeCrate order for Empire of Gold arrives soon!).

It’s a very ambitious TBR for me considering these are all 500+ page books, and I may decide halfway through the month to take a break from fantasy depending on my mood, but this is my plan for now! I also have a few other fantasy books that I’m thinking about reading if I have the time (The Rage of Dragons, maybe The Waking Fire, maybe some ARCs, who knows).


Television

I didn’t watch very much TV this month because I was focused so very much on reading and finishing up the Hugo novels, but I did manage to binge two very entertaining shows and catch up on another season of ATLA.

The Alienist (Season 1)

alienist

I freaking love The Alienist, as I knew I would; I watched all ten episodes in, what, two days? I’m obsessed with pretty much anything Victorian Era, and this is set in late 19th-century New York City. It’s all about a German alienist (psychologist) who is trying to solve the serial murders of young boys, alongside John Moore, a society illustrator, and the amazing Sara Howard, the first female employee of the NYPD. It’s gruesome and tantalizing and very well-plotted, with complex, endearing characters and a ship to die for. My only issue has to do with a particular character whose portrayal I think was absolutely awful, and then…her fate was really, really regressive. I’m hoping season 2 (airing now!) will improve upon this and add more regular female characters as well.

***

Marcella (Season 1 and 2)

marcella

(Yes, I should probably have found a GIF of the titular character instead of a very minor side character, but said minor side character is the gorgeous Florence Pugh and I actually can’t stand the titular character, so here we are.)

So, Marcella is a British crime drama that I’ve been meaning to watch ever since the first season aired on Netflix way back when, but I always avoided it because I knew it dealt with a ~damaged~ detective, which is a trope that I despise. Indeed, Marcella is an extremely unlikable character, and not unlikable in an intriguing way where you actually really do like her, but just genuinely unlikable. As in, she’s an awful person who I would hate to know in real life and as a character she’s tedious and hypocritical and spiteful and stubborn in a very stupid way, while also of course losing her mind because her baby died. I kind of hate everything about her character.

It’s unfortunate, because the actual show is excellent, with gruesome crimes being investigated by a pretty interesting team of detectives (seriously, the side characters are SO much better than Marcella’s drama). The first season had a pretty fantastic reveal that absolutely shocked me (though, looking back, I should have seen it coming), and the second season, while weaker, was still compelling. My only issue with the setup of the show is that there’s way too many plot lines intertwining, and way too many characters introduced who end up meaning very little to the overall mystery. There’s also a bunch of red herrings introduced that just end up being confusing loose ends.

And, well, season 3 veers off into a very weird direction, with Marcella undercover, and I don’t think I’m going to watch it. I don’t like undercover plotlines, and I like plotlines about mobs and mafias even less. With a protagonist I liked I may have tried to give it a shot, but I really have no interest in a season so heavily focused on Marcella’s issues.

***

Avatar the Last Airbender (Season 2)

avatar the drill

I am continuing my retwatch of ATLA. I’m trying to recall the last time I actually rewatched this series; all I can recall is it was before I had Tabby as a pet, which means it was before I moved into my current apartment, which means it was at least nine years ago, which is simply astonishing to me. But watching it now as an adult with completely different opinions, I’m intrigued by how I’m reacting differently to certain things. For one thing, I’m much more passionate about Zutara now, but I can also see the appeal of Kataang. I still love Aang, but I don’t put him on a pedestal as much anymore; I can see his flaws. I also understand him a lot better as a person with insecurities.

I am also filled with appreciation for season 2’s storyline, particularly the Ba Sing Se arc. The Drill is one of my favorite episodes; that final scene, with Aang running down the wall to destroy the drill, with that incredible music, is an iconic moment. “There is no war in Ba Sing Se” has become a cultural meme, and I’m flabbergasted by how good of a villain Long Feng of the Dai Lee, and just how good the complex political corruption was.

And of course, Zuko! I’d always been frustrated with the choice to make Zuko go back to the fire nation and side with Azula at the end of this season, after his heart-to-heart with Katara and his seeming change of heart, but it makes so much more sense to me now, thinking especially about how in the third season he’s so dissatisfied with his decision. He has changed, but it took returning home to figure that out, and it’s the confirmation he needed to eventually switch sides. It also makes a lot more sense now why Katara was the most reluctant to accept Zuko into the group in the third season, as she’d been burned by him before (pun intended), when she gave him a chance and he completely screwed her over and resulted in Aang’s near-death at Azula’s hands.

I also really dislike Mai??? She definitely has her moments, like when the gang comes to save Basco and she just shrugs and says, “Just take the bear” because she can’t be bothered to fight when she knows it’s a losing battle. But the first time we meet her she abandons her baby brother to rebels who for all she knows will never give him back??? And she just…leaves??? I also really, really hate her with Zuko. Like, he doesn’t have to be paired with Katara, but I really don’t like him with Mai.

***

Criminal Minds

criminal minds

And finally, I’ve been watching random episodes of Criminal Minds, which is finally on Netflix! I’ve never watched it before but my best friend loves it, and I can’t resist police procedurals. This one is particularly gruesome, especially for network television, and the cases are extremely outlandish, requiring a spectacular amount of suspension of disbelief, but it’s also incredibly entertaining. I’m watching it totally out of order; I started with season eleven, then went back to season seven, and if an episode isn’t particularly interesting to me, I just skip it.

I would like to start Netflix’s Cursed, but I also have so!!! many!!! shows that I want to catch up on/finish. For some of them I literally only have like a few episodes left to complete the entire show, and I’d really love to mark them off as done. For others I have entire seasons…I don’t know what’s up with me, I used to watch so much more television. I definitely used to be better at completing shows. Here’s my priority list:

  • Agents of Shield (s5-7)
  • Ramy (s2)
  • Penny Dreadful (literally 4 episodes!!!)
  • Underground (s2)
  • Jane the Virgin (7 episodes)
  • The Good Place (s4)
  • Supernatural (s14-15)
  • Harlots (4 episodes)

For Agents of Shield in particular, I’m strongly considering re-watching the series in its entirety, because it’s been a while and I’ve forgotten most everything that’s happened, and this show had some pretty wacky and complex plotlines. But it’s also really good and I love the characters, so I think it would be fun to just binge the entire thing in one sitting. However, it’s very, very long; it follows the classic network television model of American television with 45-minute 24-episode seasons (except for I think the last two seasons, which are shorter).


Films/Theatre

As usual, I suck at watching things that aren’t TV shows, but!!! This month Hamilton came out on Disney+, and it made my entire month. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for years, and I have an amazing quality bootleg that I’ve watched several times, but of course it could not compare to this incredible, professionally filmed version.

This is not a novel opinion, and it’s one many share, but I honestly think Hamilton is an absolute masterpiece and a work of genius. I could write an entire essay about why I love it, from the masterful lyrics (some of those rhymes make me want to never write again and also write forever in an attempt to come close to that genius), to the genius parallel narratives that are Hamilton and Burr’s arcs, and how they are foils of one another, to the character of Hamilton himself, to the overarching theme of the power of words. It’s just. It’s incredible. It means so much to me. I can’t wait to watch it again and again.

Palm Springs, on the other hand, was…okay? The best thing about it was Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, both of whom are stellar performers and have incredible chemistry with one another. I want to shout out Samberg in particular, who has a certain gravitas that you wouldn’t expect, but he conveys an earnest goodness that made his character immediately likable.

I’ve never seen the original Groundhog Day movie, so I have no idea if this improves on that one, but I suppose it was a fun enough film, if a little silly, and with a lot of missed opportunities. It’s tonally incoherent, in my opinion, at times coming across like a silly romp full of immature humor, at other times wanting to be a philosophical musing on the meaning of happiness and human life, and never really achieving either aspect properly. I did like the careful attention paid to how different characters reacted differently to being stuck in a time loop. Ray went a little batshit, Nyles just kind of went with the flow and accepted things, and Sarah stubbornly fought back and worked to find a fix. I thought that was a great illustration of different people reacting to the same thing in different ways.

Otherwise it was…fine? I didn’t think it was particularly funny, and the emphasis placed on gross and immature sexual humor only served to demean any high-minded point hte film was trying to make; I do have to wonder if this mightn’t have been better served as a more serious film with light elements of dark humor? I don’t know, I just kept wanting something more from it, though I can’t put my finger on what, precisely. Also nice to see Tyler Hoechlin outside of Teen Wolf.

Oh, also, how how amazing is the film poster? It’s so retro.


Other Reading

Our lives are not conditional: On Sarah Hegazy and estrangement by Tareq Barconi: A couple of months ago, a young, queer Egyptian woman named Sarah Hegazy committed suicide. She was infamous for having raised a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo, Mashrou’ Leila being a Lebanese band led by a gay man. Sarah was arrested, imprisoned, and brutally tortured. She eventually fled to Canada, but her trauma caught up with her. In the wake of her death, Egyptian social media was on fire with awful hot takes about how she doesn’t deserve mercy because she was queer or an atheist or because she killed herself, and…as a queer Egyptian woman myself, it sure is something to see my people be this awful and cruel towards a young person in pain. This whole article, written by a gay Egyptian man, is incisive, heartbreaking, and angry, but my favorite quote is this:

It is the accusation that we are foreign agents that I am most bitter about. That our minds have been colonized. We are Westernized. Godless. Corrupted by values that have no place in our Arab world. While American capitalism floods our streets and Israeli surveillance equipment arm our dictators, it is the woman wrapped in a rainbow-colored flag who is the corrupting foreign agent.

I don’t really talk much about queerness in the Arab world, but it is difficult to articulate just how absolutely furious the cruelty and hypocrisy of it all makes me. The hypocrisy is best illustrated by the quote above; the regime is perfectly happy to accept American capitalism and Israeli surveillance equipment to fill their pockets when it suits them, but a young woman just trying to live her life with pride and authenticity? That is too much for them.

On queerness and the jargon of authenticity by Ismail Fayed: Similarly, this article discusses the accusation queer Arabs are often forced to contend with, which is that our queerness is a result of Western imperialism, Western culture, Western infiltration, that we are somehow made lesser because of this, that our Arabness cannot exist alongside our queerness. It’s bullshit for many reasons, but mostly because it is impossible to extricate our identities from Western influence, as this quote articulates:

Our queerness, our experiences of who we are, and what we are, are informed by everything we experience, Western or not. It does not dictate who we are, but it adds layers of meaning and expression. There is no way to extricate that so-called “Western-influence” from our identities, our stories, and how we relate to ourselves, how we relate to others and how we relate to the places we live in. This authentic and pristine utopia, free of any Western influence, only exists in the delusions of some postcolonial academics. And it’s time they give up this quest for authenticity, because the price for this fevered search is literally our bodies and our lives.

The History of Consumption and The Cannibalistic Nature of Whiteness by Sherronda J. Brown: This is a seriously gruesome account of white people’s history of cannibalizing the Other, from Egyptian mummies to lynched African-Americans.

Anti-Blackness in the Arab World and the Violence that Doesn’t Get A Hashtag by Bahira Amin: It’s not secret that anti-blackness in the Arab world is a huge problem, and this article, while not precisely an overview, nevertheless gives a window into the experiences of Black people in the Middle East, while contextualizing it all within the recent events surrounding Black Lives Matter and George Floyd.

“Brown Skin Is Half of Beauty”: Representations of Beauty and the Construction of Race in Contemporary Cairo by Maurita N. Poole: I’ve been reading through this interesting dissertation on race in Cairo. I’ve always been fascinated with how Egyptians look at race, since Western racial classifications aren’t really understood the same way in North Africa, but the understanding of race does exist, even if North Africans insist on denying it. Poole went to Cairo and conducted interviews with various Cairenes, light-skinned and dark-skinned. (The link goes to a google result where you may download the PDF of the dissertation if you are so inclined.)

Searching For The American Dream On Paradise Road by Claire Harbage: Photographer Eliot Dudik travels America and takes beautiful pictures of various roads called “Paradise Road.” Recommended reading for anyone intrigued by Americana. Or anyone who just wants to look at some really pretty pictures of random American towns.

The 25 Most Influential Women in Egyptian History by Yasmine El Dorghamy: Just what it sounds like, a historical round up of influential and intriguing Egyptian women from Pharonic times to present.

What Was Cooking in Medieval Cairo by Nawal Nasrallah: This is a super fascinating historical article about how and what people ate in medieval Cairo. One fascinating fact is that most people didn’t have kitchens and didn’t cook in their homes, but purchased food from food vendors!


Miscellaneous

Hmm, I don’t think anything significant happened this month? Oh, I guess writing-wise, I had a breakthrough with what I think will end up being three major plot bunnies! The other day I merged two totally disparate story ideas into one, and they fit seamlessly, as one was full on worldbuilding and lacking plot and the other was the other way around. I have a third story idea that I might try to wriggle in there, because it’s not so much of a story idea as it is a character, a single plot thread, and a very specific worldbuilding element. It would fit, but it would also mean a 4 POV story taking places across two countries, which is, you know, very common in epic fantasy, but also something I’ve never done before, but it could be an interesting challenge. As it is, I’m having a lot of fun writing this one. It’s inspired by Throne of Glass (yes, THAT Throne of Glass) and the K-drama Scarlet Heart. Which is bizarre, I know.

I still really need to finish the WIP I was working on last month, because it is so, so close to being done! I’ve outlined most of the new ending but then just ran out of steam on it and got distracted by this new/old idea that I’m now working on. We’ll see how things go.

Otherwise I don’t really think I’ve done…anything this month? Did I even leave my house except to go buy groceries every now and then? I’m kind of in awe of my ability to not leave my house for weeks on end and be perfectly content. Not that I don’t miss travel, but otherwise, I’m doing pretty good.

But yeah, that’s it. Stay safe and wear your masks, y’all.

3 thoughts on “Wrap Up: July 2020

  1. Reading your blog is always such a pleasure. I continuously Amazed by how much you read in a single month. Your blog also serves as a Reminder that I need to be better about keeping track of media that aren’t books.

    I saw Palm Springs a couple days and felt similarly. Not particularly outstanding, but it held my attention well enough.

    Like

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